Thinking security means not just thinking critically or strategically, but also thinking in time. Thinking in time means to use history to assess risks versus rewards, as well as to facilitate critical, strategic, and creative thinking. History has a lot to tell us about what happens on Thanksgiving during a pandemic. Specifically, what happened on and after Thanksgiving in 1918 during the flu pandemic (emphasis mine):
“More than 200,000 dead since March. Cities in lockdown. Vaccine trials underway. And a holiday message, of sorts: “See that Thanksgiving celebrations are restricted as much as possible so as to prevent another flare-up.”
This isn’t the message of Thanksgiving 2020. It’s the Thanksgiving Day notice that ran in the Omaha World Herald on Nov. 28, 1918, when Americans found themselves in a similar predicament to the millions now grappling with how to celebrate the holiday season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Every time I hear someone say these are unprecedented times, I say no, no, they’re not,” said Brittany Hutchinson, assistant curator at the Chicago History Museum. “They did this in 1918.”
The Article Describes The Pandemic of 1918:
On Thanksgiving more than a century ago, many Americans, like today, lived under various phases of quarantines and face mask orders. Millions mourned loved ones. And health officials in many cities issued the same holiday warning: “Stay home and stay safe.”
As Thanksgiving 1918 rolled around, some cities celebrated the relaxation of flu-related restrictions – partly due to opposition campaigns by retailers, theater owners, unions, mass transportation companies and other economically stressed stakeholders. Washington, Indianapolis and Oakland, California, had lifted restrictions days before, and San Francisco was on the brink of lifting its mask mandate.
San Francisco had one of the nation’s largest anti-masking campaigns, spearheaded by the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco, according to Howard Markel, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan and co-editor-in chief of The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919. Many people refused to wear masks and were arrested, and when the “line into the courtroom was so long, they laid off arresting people because the system couldn’t enforce it,” said Markel.
On Nov. 13, the San Francisco Examiner reported that “Thanksgiving Day will be celebrated in San Francisco by the discarding of gauze masks, if the present rate of decrease in influenza continues.”
A handful of cities began to see a surge in cases on Thanksgiving Day.
Jefferson, Iowa, physician C.W. Blake spent much of his Thanksgiving evening making house calls on people ill from influenza, author Thomas Morain wrote in his 1998 book, Prairie Grass Roots; “Blake was attending a Thanksgiving dinner at a farm outside town and let the local phone operator know he would be available later in the day. When he received the call about patients in the early evening, the operator had a list of 54 patients who had come down with the flu that day.”
“At one farm north of Jefferson a family of four was too sick even to make themselves the most simple meal,” Morain wrote. “While Blake checked each one, (his assistant) made a soup from ingredients on hand and left it for the family.”
Just as cases rose after the 1918 Armistice Day celebrations, they rose again after Thanksgiving. Dallas, Minneapolis, San Antonio, San Francisco and Seattle saw surges. Omaha relaunched a public health campaign. Parts of Cleveland and its suburbs closed schools and enacted influenza bans in early December.
On Dec. 6, 1918 the St. Paul Daily News announced that more than 40 Minneapolis schools were closed because of the flu, below the headline “SANTA CLAUS IS DOWN WITH THE FLU.” Health officials asked “moving picture show” managers to exclude children, closed Sunday schools and ordered department stores to dispense with “Santa Claus programs.”
On Christmas Eve 1918, health officials in Nebraska made influenza a mandatory quarantine disease, and fines ranged from $15 to $100 for violations. Approximately 1,000 homes in Omaha were placarded, meaning their occupants were unable to leave for at least four days after the fever had subsided.
In Denver, the Salvation Army canceled its annual Christmas parties for children, and the Women’s Press Club canceled its New Year’s Eve ball. School Christmas assemblies were canceled in Fall River, Massachusetts, and families with an influenza patient in their homes were warned not to entertain guests and barred from borrowing books from the library.
By January, the USA was fully engulfed in its third wave of influenza. The virus spread throughout the winter and spring, killing thousands more. It infected one-third of the world’s population and killed approximately 675,000 Americans before subsiding in the summer of 1919.
What did they do wrong?
That’s hard to say, but all of these measures are like Swiss cheese. They have holes, so you try to use as many layers as possible,” said Markel. “To me, those surges just represented whether there was social distancing or not. Flu didn’t stop circulating, the question was when did people go out and get exposed to it? And that’s what’s going on now.”
History, actual documented historical facts at all the links in The Pandemic of 1918 excerpt above, tell us what happens if simple, common sense public health measures are not followed during a respiratory pandemic. But if you want a modern, contemporary, recent example, here’s what happened when a family had a small birthday in Texas in early November (emphasis mine):
A birthday party earlier this month is having some longer term effects for one family in Arlington, Texas, according to KTLA sister station KXAN in Austin.
Alexa Aragonez, 26, tells the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that her family discussed their concerns before the Nov. 1 party and decided they’d been careful enough.
While she didn’t attend, she dropped off her 57-year-old mother at the party: which included 11 other guests, including one pregnant cousin and four children.
A few days later, Aragonez’s mom Enriqueta began feeling sick, took a test and tested positive for coronavirus. Eventually, all 12 party guests tested positive.
Enriqueta’s case was most severe: she spent one week and a day in the hospital. The other family members experienced mild symptoms, though some of the children developed strong coughs.
“It’s scary to think that what if my entire family would have had the severe case and every single one of those 15 folks had to go to the hospital,” Aragonez told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “One, I would feel guilty for taking resources from people that really do need it, and two, I would be at risk of losing my entire family.”
Aragonez tested negative, but three more people — who were not at the party — were also infected due to guests who attended.
She says her family didn’t believe gathering with relatives was high-risk and that they’d all grown tired of not seeing each other as regularly as they normally do.
Don’t take my word for it, here’s the Public Service Announcement she recorded for the City of Arlington, Texas:
Elected and appointed officials, public health officials, scientists, doctors, your fellow citizens; none of them are trying to oppress anyone, to take away anyone’s freedom or liberty. They’re trying to keep all of as, as many of us as possible, alive until the vaccines are ready for distribution at the end of this year and through the spring of 2021 so that life can begin to return to normal.
This isn’t a plot against the constitutional, natural, and/or Deity-given rights of Americans, it’s an attempt to keep us all alive so that we can all actually enjoy the rights, liberties, and responsibilities that are our inheritance as Americans and should be the right of all humans everywhere. But there’s no liberty or freedom if you’re dead!
We’re at war with an invisible enemy. I know we’ve heard that before. We heard it after 9-11 about how it was all too possible that far too many of our friends and neighbors whose faith is Muslim could somehow be terrorists in waiting. And as a result of the hyperbole and fear we accepted all sorts of ridiculous restrictions on our liberties in the name of the global war on terrorism, such as having to remove our shoes to get through airport security.
What we got was security theater because the threat was never really existential. COVID-19 is an actual existential threat. It is a real invisible enemy. If you got a COVID-19 test two weeks ago or a week ago, or on Monday and it came back negative so you think it is now safe to go visit family for Thanksgiving, think again.
It can take up to two weeks after exposure and infection before a diagnostic (RNA swab) test for COVID-19 will indicate that one has tested positive for COVID-19. The quick tests still have issues with false results.
If you want yourself, your extended family, and your friends to be alive for Christmas and New Years and many more years to come, the smartest thing you can do, the “Thinking Security” thing to do, is to take the lessons of Thanksgiving 1918 to heart and just have a small, quiet Thanksgiving this year!
I know it sucks, it’s not much fun, but dead people don’t get to enjoy Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Years or birthdays and anniversaries and graduations and confirmations or just going out to lunch with their friends. And they certainly don’t get to enjoy the rights, liberties, and responsibilities of being an American. If you’re planning on traveling to see family and friends, don’t. If you’re planning on having them over, don’t. Do it for yourself and for them. And your neighbors and your fellow citizens. A little sacrifice now means most of us will still be here to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2021!
Have a happy, safe, and healthy Thanksgiving!